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The Amateur Magician's Handbook

by Henry Hay
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The Amateur Magician's Handbook by Henry Hay

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For more than a generation The Amateur Magician's Handbook has been the acknowledged classic text for conjurers, both beginners and advanced. Even David Copperfield recommended it during one of his TV specials. Literally thousands of magicians found their love for magic through this book. Several of these magicians are today recognized performers. This fourth edition, expanded as well as thoroughly revised, and introduced by Milbourne Christopher, includes a section where the Amazing Randi contributes his experience using video for self-coaching.

This new edition teaches, briskly yet carefully, with hundreds of illustrations, all the skills and secrets of the wizard's repertoire: reading minds, pulling rabbits from hats, turning red handkerchiefs green, dissolving konts, pouring drinks from empty jars, dealing yourself all the aces, finding silver dollars in the air, to name a few.

The Amateur Magician's Handbook stands alone in showing how and why magic works as entertainment: how spectators think and how you must think, and feel, to make puzzling tricks pleasing.

A comprehensive new section covers the difficult but rewarding (and potentially profitable) art of entertaining children.

The final sections tell you what you need to know about conjuring beyond the tricks: comedy; pantomime; music. An extensive bio-bibliography includes not only the great conjurers of the past but also the up-and-coming conjurers of today.

Lastly, author Henry Hay offers guidance on making magic make money for you. "If I hear of someone's studying The Amateur Magician's Handbook and then climbing out of the amateur class by getting paid for a show," says Henry Hay, "I shall be satisfied."

Paul Fleming wrote:

This is unquestionably the best of the four books on conjuring thus far written by Mr. Hay, and a very good "best" indeed. As the title implies, it is a book for the general reader. Assuming that the would-be magician has had no previous knowledge of the subject, the author starts at the beginning, explains a substantial number of effective tricks which any intelligent person should be able to master, and wisely refrains from burdening his book with descriptions of heavy, bulky apparatus or stage illusions for which the average amateur has not the slightest practical use. For the guidance of those who may wish to delve more deeply into the mysteries of conjuring, Mr. Hay makes frequent references to other, more advanced works on magic.

Four of the nineteen chapters in this book have to do with such matters as the "philosophy" of magic, misdirection and presentation, and descriptions of "fakes" and conjuring accessories. Card and coin tricks are especially suitable for amateur performance; and we think it quite appropriate that 43 percent of the book (129 pages, 79 illustrations) should be devoted to card magic, and 17 percent (50 pages, 64 illustrations) to conjuring with coins. Silk handkerchief magic is explained in 19 pages, billiard ball manipulation and The Cups and Balls in eighteen, cigarette work in seven, mental magic in six, and thimbles in three. Miscellaneous tricks, which include some feats for close-up presentation, are given 31 pages of text and 16 illustrations.

Clarity and readability are the keynotes of this book. The first of these characteristics is obviously of paramount importance to the beginner, for whom the book was primarily written, but the second will make it interesting even to well-read magicians. The author's frequent citations and appraisals of performers, books, and tricks (which will mean little or nothing to the raw beginner) are bound to be of great interest to readers who, though they have perhaps been serious students of magic for quite as long a time as Mr. Hay, would be unlikely to accept, without argument, his conclusions on such matters as, say, the eminence of certain "authorities" whom he cites, what constitutes good patter ("some of it, God help us, in rhyme," laments our author), or whether Asrah is actually, as we read in this book, "the most finished" version of the levitation illusion. With many of the Hay pronouncements the present reviewer found himself in hearty accord, and nearly all proved highly entertaining; as did, also, his explanations of even the most familiar conjuring procedures for Mr. Hay is a writer! His observations are stimulating, whether the reader agrees with them or not.

The Amateur Magician's Handbook is attractively produced. Its 331 large pages (6 1/2 by 9 1/4 inches in size) are exceptionally well set in large, clear type. The 219 illustrations, mostly photographic reproductions, have been soundly chosen, and the paper used is unusually heavy and highly suitable for halftone printing. The printing of both type and halftones has been done with care, and the cover is of sturdy black cloth with the title printed in yellow ink. This book may not of itself turn the uninitiated beginner into an expert conjurer, but it should at least give him an excellent start.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction by Milbourne Christopher
  • A Few Words Before Curtain Time

  1. Chapter One: The Magic State of Mind
  2. Chapter Two: Hard Easy Tricks and Easy Hard Tricks
  3. Part One Hand Magic
  4. Chapter Three: Hand Magic With Cards
    1. Hand Magic
    2. Hand Magic with Cards
    3. 1a. Breaks: little finger
    4. 1b. The Glimpse
    5. As Easy As Spelling Your Name
    6. 1c. Permanent Breaks: the crimp or bridge
    7. Paul Rosini's Location
    8. 2. Shifts or Passes
    9. 2a. The Conventional Two Handed Shift
    10. The Stabbed Pack: effect
    11. 2b. The side Steal or Side Slip
    12. You Must be Wrong: effect
    13. 2c. The Herrmann Pass
    14. 2d. One Handed Shifts "New-Method" Robert Houdin
    15. 2e. One Handed Shifts Old Method
    16. 2f. One Handed Shifts: The Charlier Pass
    17. 3. Forcing
    18. 3a. The Fan Force: the Classic Force
    19. 3b. Thought Forces: similar to classic force
    20. 3c. Sure-Fire Force: The slip
    21. 3d. Sure Fire Force: Stanley Collins Method
    22. Everybody's Card: effect
    23. 3e. The Shift
    24. 4. Palming
    25. 4a. The Top Palm
    26. Charles Bertram's Four Ace Trick
    27. 4b. The Bottom Palm (right hand)
    28. 4c. The Bottom Palm (left hand)
    29. 5. False Shuffles
    30. 5a. Overhand:
    31. Luis Zingone's Table Spread
    32. 5b. Dovetail: extensive coverage
    33. 5c. Hindu Shuffle
    34. 6. Changes
    35. 6a. The Double Lift
    36. 6b. The Top Change
    37. Step on It!
    38. 6c. The Bottom Change
    39. 6d. Palm Change
    40. 6e. Double Palm Change
    41. The Phoney Aces
    42. 7. Color Changes
    43. 7a. The Clip (Felicien Trewey)
    44. Wiping Out the Spot and a Production Flourish
    45. 7b. Sidesteal Color Change
    46. Correcting a Mistake: effect
    47. 7c. Far End Steal Color Change
    48. 7d. Snap Change
    49. 8. Trick Deals
    50. 8a. Second Deal
    51. Five Hands: effect
    52. 8b. Bottom Deal
    53. Flourishes
    54. 9a. The Riffle
    55. 9b. Springing the Cards
    56. 9c. Fanning
    57. 9d. The Back Palm
    58. Vanish and Recovery: effect
    59. 9e. Scaling or Throwing Cards
  5. Chapter Four: Give Them A Rest (Tricks where no cards are chosen)
    1. 1. The Four Aces
    2. Nate Leipzig's Slap Aces
    3. Cardini's Ace Trick
    4. 2. The Cards Up the Sleeve
    5. 3. The Diminishing Cards
    6. 4. The Thirty Card Trick
    7. 5. More Flourishes: Cards from the mouth and Fan Away
    8. 6. The Ambitious Card
    9. 7. The Three Card Trick
    10. 8. Reading the Cards
  6. Chapter Five: Please Take a Card - Standard Card Tricks
    1. 1. Locations
    2. 1a. The Tap (in-jog)
    3. 1b. The Side Crimp
    4. 1c. Approximation, with the Optical Fan Location
    5. The Optical Fan Location (John Mulholland)
    6. 2. Card at Any Number
    7. 3. Stop Me
    8. 4. Spelling Trick with Spell Charts
    9. 4a. The Automatic Speller
    10. 4b. Mental Selection Speller
    11. 5. Reversed Cards
    12. 6. The Card in the Pocket
    13. 7. The Rising Cards
  7. Chapter Six: Hand Magic with Coins
    1. 1. The Tourniquet or French Drop
    2. 2. The Finger Palm
    3. 3. The Flat Thumb Palm
    4. 4. The Regular Thumb Palm
    5. 5. The Regular Palm
    6. 6. The Edge, Oblique, or Downs' Palm
    7. 7. The Change Over Palm
    8. 8. The Back Palm
    9. 9. The Crotch Palm
    10. 10. Sleeving (Brief Coverage)
    11. 11. The Downs' Click Pass
    12. 12. The Downs' Fan Pass
    13. 13. The Squeeze Pass
    14. 14. The DeManche Change
    15. 15. The Handkerchief Fold
    16. 16. Flourish: Coin Roll or Steeplechase
  8. Chapter 7: The Miser's Dream and Other Great Coin Tricks
    1. 1. Miser's Dream
    2. 2. Catching Five Coins (Downs' Eureka Pass)
    3. 3. Manuel's Thumb Gag
    4. 4. Nate Leipzig's Slow Motion Vanish
    5. 5. Leipzig's Coin from Hand to Hand
    6. 6. Coin From Hand to Hand: 3 methods
    7. 7. Silver and Gold: Version of Dai Vernon's Winged Silver
    8. 8. The Sympathetic Coins
    9. 9. Coins Dissolving in a Handkerchief
    10. 10. The Shake Penetration (Senor Mardo)
    11. 11. Coins to Handkerchief
    12. 12. Coin from Handkerchief to Handkerchief
    13. 13. Trouser Leg Vanish
    14. 14. The Dissolving Coin (no disk version)
    15. 15. Finding the Chosen Coin
    16. 16. Date Detection (Eddie Joseph)
    17. 17. Coins Up The Sleeve
    18. Heartbreakers: lots of practice, but little reward
    19. 18. Heads or Tails: always predict coin flip
    20. 19. Coins to Glass
    21. 20. Coin Star (One handed)
    22. 21. Coin Star (Two handed)
  9. Chapter 8: Hand Magic With Billiard Balls
    1. 1. The Palm
    2. 2. The Finger Palm
    3. 3. Simulation (acting as though the ball is in the palm)
    4. 4. Standard Passes
    5. 5. The Trip Pass
    6. 6. The Kick Pass
    7. 7. The Change Over Palm
    8. 8. Color Changes
    9. 9. Flourish: Cardini's Climbing Billiard Balls
  10. Chapter 9: The Multiplying Billiard Balls
    1. Hay's Routine
  11. Chapter 10: Other Hand Magic With Balls
    1. 1. Cups and Balls
    2. 2. Sponge Balls
  12. Chapter 11: Hand Magic with Thimbles
    1. 1. The Thumb Palm
    2. 2. The Steal Pass
    3. 3. Thimble Changes
    4. 4. The Multiplying Thimbles
  13. Chapter 12: Hand Magic With Cigarettes
    1. 1. The Thumb Palm
    2. 2. Tip Tilt Pass
    3. 3. Poke Through Pass
    4. 4. King Size Pass
    5. 5. Tonguing
    6. 6. Lighted Cigarette Through Handkerchief
    7. 7. Card in Cigarette
  14. Part Two: Applied Art: Head Magic
  15. Chapter 13: Head Magic With Cards
    1. 1. Locations
    2. 1a. Unprepared Key Cards
    3. 1b. Prepared Key Cards
    4. 2. Mechanical Decks
    5. 3. Setups
    6. 3a. Systems: Si Stebbins, 8 Kings, Nikola
    7. Behind Your Back
    8. The Shuffled Setup
    9. The Foolproof Card in Pocket
    10. 3b. Special Setups
    11. Sound of the Voice
    12. Spot Location
    13. Got any Good Phone Numbers?
    14. The Royal Marriages (Dai Vernon)
    15. The 10 Card Trick
    16. 4. Card Reading
    17. 4a. By the One Ahead Method
    18. 4b. The Whispering Queen
  16. Chapter 14: Varied Head Magic
    1. 1. Find the Dime (Al Baker)
    2. 2. Who Has Which?
    3. 3. Money Sense
    4. 4. Date Reading
    5. 5. Coin Telepathy
    6. 6. Torn and Restored Paper
    7. 7. Pellet Paper Repeat
    8. 8. Rubber Pencil
    9. 9. Rising Cigarette from Pack
    10. 10. Restored Matches
    11. 11. Linking Matches
    12. 12. Ring On Stick (Major Branson, Indian Army)
    13. 13. The Potsherd Trick
  17. Part Three: Apparatus Magic
  18. Chapter 15 - Silks
    1. 1. Productions:
    2. Stillwell Ball
    3. Roterberg Vanisher
    4. False Finger
    5. Drumhead Tube
    6. Phantom Tube
    7. 2. Vanishes:
    8. Traditional Method
    9. Poke Through Vanish
    10. Pulls
    11. 3. Color Changing:
    12. Color Changing Handkerchief
    13. Dye Tube
    14. 4. Knots
    15. Dissolving Knot
    16. Appearing Knot
    17. Fake Square Knots
    18. Knot That Unties Itself
    19. Sympathetic Silks
  19. Chapter 16: Small Gimmicks and Fakes
    1. Thumb Tip
    2. Finger Tip
    3. Thumb Writer
    4. Card Index
    5. Card Box
    6. Card Frame
    7. Pulls
    8. Hooks
    9. Tumblers
    10. Mirror Glass
  20. Chapter 17: Standard Stuff
    1. 1. Cut and Restored Rope; 3 methods
    2. 2. The Egg Bag
    3. 3. The Passe Passe Bottle and Glass
    4. 4. Liquid Tricks
    5. 4a. The Lota: inexhaustible vase of water
    6. 4b. The Rice Bowls
    7. 4c. The Funnel
    8. 4d. The Ching Ling Foo Water Can
    9. 5. Productions: what to produce
    10. 5a. Hat Productions
    11. 5b. The Tambourine
    12. 5c. Carpet of Bagdad
    13. 5d. The Jap Box
    14. 5e. The Organ Pipes
    15. 6. The Chinese Wands
    16. 7. The Linking Rings
  21. Part Four: Mental Magic
  22. Chapter 18: Mental Magic - Theo Annemann
    1. 1. Magician or Mind Reader?
    2. 2. Psychic Slate Test
    3. 3. Extrasensory Perception
    4. 4. The Stolen Center Ruse
    5. 5. Question and Answer
    6. 6. Stuart Robson's Newspaper Test
    7. 7. Sid Lorraine's Forty Thousand Words
    8. 8. One Ahead Reading
    9. 9. A Day of Your Life
    10. 10. More Alive Than Dead
    11. 11. A Mentalist With Money
    12. 12. The Lyons Bill Switch
    13. 13. Dr. Daley's Slates
    14. 14. The Mystery of the Blackboard
    15. 15. Taps
  23. Part Five: Intimate Magic
  24. Chapter 19: Close Up Performance
    1. 1. Matches
    2. 1a. The Fire Proof Hand
    3. 1b. The Extinguisher
    4. 1c. The Balanced Match
    5. 1d. The Leaping Flame
    6. 1e. The X-Ray Cross
    7. 2. Coin in Roll
    8. 3. The Torn Cigarette
    9. 4. Tumblers
    10. 4a. Balanced Liquid Diet
    11. 4b. Glass Levitation
    12. 4c. Coin Through Glass (Bertram)
    13. 4d. Vanishing Tumbler
    14. 4e. The Ghost Echo
    15. 4f. Singing Glass, Peculiar Pellet
    16. 5. Stringing 'Em Along:
    17. 5a. The Spiral
    18. 5b. The Snare
    19. 5c. The Triple Circle Routine (Jack Salvin and Fred Lowe)
    20. 5d. Jumping Rubber Band on Fingers
    21. 5e. Wild West
    22. 6. Knocking the Spots Off
    23. 7. Coin Boxes
    24. 7a. German Box: Ganson routine (summarized)
    25. 7b. The Okito Box: Tea for Okito from Lewis Ganson's Close Up Vol II
    26. 7c. Boston Box: Fred Lowe's Boston Three Step from Ganson's Close Up Vol 1
  25. Part Six: Children's Shows
  26. Chapter 20: Performing for Children
    1. Children's Venues
    2. Resources
    3. Your Audience
    4. Casting Yourself
    5. Children Are Your Guests
    6. Assistants
    7. Sucker Gags
    8. Never Lose Your Temper
    9. Noise Level
    10. Closing the Act
    11. Time
    12. How Should You Dress?
    13. The Act
    14. Music
    15. Animals
    16. Hand Puppets
    17. Giveaways
    18. What Tricks?
    19. 1. The Afghan Bands
    20. 2. The Breakaway Fan
    21. 3. The Cake Baked In a Hat
    22. 4. Nest of Boxes
    23. 5. Sun and Moon
  27. Part Seven: Platform Magic
  28. Chapter 21: Platform Magic
    1. Things You Should Know
    2. Take Those Articles Along
    3. The Wand
    4. Clothes
    5. Faked Furniture
    6. Servante
    7. Black Art Wells
    8. Coaching Yourself with Videotape (The Amazing Randi)
    9. Chapter 21: How to Stage a Magic Show: Some Professional Advice
    10. 1. Comedy
    11. 2. Pantomime (Louise Gifford)
    12. 3. Music (Henry Blanchard, Boyd C. Roche)
    13. 4. Night Club Shows
    14. 5. Business Methods
    15. 6. Publicity
  29. Appendix: Further Tricks and Illusions Glossary
  30. Biography and Bibliography: Index of magicians and publications
  31. Index

1st edition 1950; 4th edition 1982; 424 pages
word count: 157813 which is equivalent to 631 standard pages of text


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Reviewed by Cristian Vidrascu
★★★★★   Date Added: Friday 12 July, 2013

One of the best books on magic, the only issue I have is with the title: the target audience is not limited to amateurs. If I were dictator of the universe, I would make it required reading for any type of entertainer, especially magicians and mentalists.

Covered within are sleight of hand magic versus "head magic" (where ingenious methods not involving sleight of hand are used). There is emphasis on cards, coins, the usual, but what differentiates this from other books on magic is how clearly the psychology of magic is explained. You could tell the author was very sharp, his thought process was very thorough, and his writing style was extremely clear and to the point.


Reviewed by Grandpa Chet Cox (confirmed purchase)
★★★★★   Date Added: Monday 02 August, 2010

The BEST single magic book written, bar none. Its only competition is any volume from Tarbell's Course -- and I'd recommend the full Tarbell Course before any one volume.

This will not only take a person from beginner to professional, but will improve the act of any professional who studies it. Bob Cassidy calls it the best introduction to mentalism, and I daresay one could say that about any of the genres the book covers.

Don't forget to pick up the book ABOUT June Mussey (Hays) -- his real life was just as magical as his wizardry.

We need a rating better than "Good" for this book.


Reviewed by Chris Walden
★★★★★   Date Added: Monday 28 January, 2008

This book was what led me from the juvenile section to the grown-up book section in my library as a kid. It was incredibly tough trying to learn sleight of hand with few pictures (by today's standards) and a whole lot of narrative.

Yet between these covers was a world of magic that I had never imagined. It went far beyond the "make at home" approach I had seen and showed me the full range of sleight-of-hand, mind reading and stage illusions. It not only talked about doing tricks but told stories about what it was like to be a magician and to be around magicians. It taught about the work required to do this stuff right and made it clear that it was not something that would happen in an afternoon.

I read and reread that book. When I found a paperback version I snagged it. I finally got a hardback version which I treasure. Now it's here in beautiful, portable, searchable electronic form. It is not the best book for learning any particular branch of the art. But it is a perfect book for acquainting someone with the idea of magic as an art form and the rich palette it provides.

Own it. Read it. Grow from it.


Reviewed by Larry Brodahl
★★★★★   Date Added: Wednesday 23 January, 2008

One of the absolute best books ever written. It concerns itself not only with how the tricks are done, but why. It talks about when apparatus is better than sleight of hand, and when it's not. Some of the coin work seems supremely complicated, but every book should leave you with something further to learn. This book covers about every basic sleight imaginable, along with many prop items. The updated chapter on close up stuff is also very nice.
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